Dashboards As Navigation

When is a dashboard a dashboard? Recently we looked at the Dell IdeaStorm Dashboard and one of the comments was “How is this a dashboard? It might be a portal, but all it does is list links of other things to go look at. It actually contains precious little real information.” If you bring up that dashboard example, you’ll see that the dashboard consists of a panel of portlets with text and links. Here’s a small screenshot. Click the thumbnail of the dashboard to enlarge it to see the detail.

This Dell IdeaStorm Dashboard consists of text descriptions and links.

This Dell IdeaStorm Dashboard consists of text descriptions and links.

That comment got me to thinking. Is there such a thing as a “real” dashboard? What makes something a dashboard?

I personally have always considered navigation as a legitimate goal of a dashboard. By categorizing information into the various “buckets”, a dashboard consisting of text and links does add value. It summarizes information and leads to further analysis. Summary information can definitely be enough to encourage action.

The Dell dashboard shown above has a mix of “real information” along with links. It shows a line of a particular suggestion and other data values. What about a dashboard that has just links? Will it still offer value?

Let’s take a look at AgencyTool’s Web Design Dashboard. It is a dashboard of resource links. There is categorization of topics via the use of portlets. You can hover over the links and get a synopsis of the resource that the link will take you to, but the intent of this dashboard is clearly that of a navigation device.

The screengrab of the dashboard is big, so click on the thumbnail below to enlarge the dashboard.

An Example of a Navigation Dashboard. Do you consider this a "real" dashboard?

Here is a closeup of the hover over / tool tip technique to provide information about the link destination.

Hover over links on the dashboard to see the destination details

So the question is this:

While a dashboard is clearly a design paradigm that can be leveraged for the clarity that it can bring as a visual design pattern, must one have business metrics on it to be considered a business dashboard? Isn’t a dashboard layout simply enough to qualifiy it as a “real” dashboard?

My own thinking is that navigation and categorization can bring plenty of value to business users and that our definition of business dashboards must also include dashboards as a visual design pattern. Many custom applications being built today have a “dashboard” tab on it that acts both as a summary of key information and as a drill-down starting point / navigation panel.

I say that this example is indeed a “dashboard”. What do you think?

Tags: Definition of Dashboard, Dashboards as a Design Pattern